Electric Wind

Posted on January 21, 2010  Comments (10)

photo of William Kamkwamba on his windmillphoto of William Kamkwamba on his windmill from his blog.

I have written about William Kamkwamba before: Inspirational EngineerHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. And along with the post, Make the World Better, donated to his cause. His new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is quite enjoyable and provides an interesting view of how he persevered. His talk of the famine, not being able to afford school and putting together a windmill using scrape parts and a few books from the library (donated by the American government – much better foreign aid than all the military weapons that are often counted as aid) is inspirational. And should help many sitting in luxury understand the privileged lives they lead.

“I’d become very interested in how things worked, yet never thought of this as science. In addition to radios, I’d also become fascinated by how cards worked, especially how petrol operated an engine. How does this happen? I thought? Well, that’s easy to find out – just ask someone with a car… But no one could tell me… Really how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?” (page 66)

“Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life… All I needed was a windmill, and then I could have lights. No more kerosene lamps that burned out eyes… I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation.” (page 158)

William set out to demonstrate his windmill for the first time to a skeptical crowd saying (page 193)

“Let’s see how crazy this boy really is.”… “Look,” someone said. “He’s made light!”… “Electric wind!” I shouted. “I told you I wasn’t mad!”

I like how the story shows how long, hard work, reading, experimenting and learning is what allowed William to success (page 194-5)

For the next month, about thirty people showed up each day to stare at the light. “How did you manage such a thing?” They asked. “Hard work and lots of research,” I’d say, trying not to sound too smug…
[to William’s father] “What an intelligent boy. Where did he get such ideas?”
“He’s been reading lots of books. Maybe from there?”
“They teach this in school?”
“He was forced to drop. He did this on his own.”
The diagram demonstrated twenty-four volts being transformed to two hundred forty. I knew voltage increased with each turn of wire. The diagram showed the primary coil to have two hundred turns, while the secondary had two thousand. A bunch of mathematical equations were below the diagram – I assumed they explained how I could make my own conversions – but instead I just wrapped like mad and hoped it would work. (page 200)
Soon I was attacking every idea with its own experiment. Over the next year, there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t planning or devising some new scheme. And though the windmill and radio transmitter had both been successes, I couldn’t say the same for a few other experiments. (page 215)

William is now attending the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, with an amazing group of classmates. See how you can support the Moving Windmills Projects.

Related: Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New HopeMake the World BetterWilliam Kamkwamba on the Daily ShowWhat Kids can Learnappropriate technology

10 Responses to “Electric Wind”

  1. Anonymous
    January 21st, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

    What a great story! It reminds me of reading Henry Fords book. His first car was built with an engine that used an old smokestack off a steam tractor as the cylinder for the engine.

    Where there is a will there is a way. It seems with modern technology we have become desensitized to invention and innovation.

  2. David Leigh
    January 22nd, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    Wow, that really is some kind of windmill! I just shows you what can be done with people who want to get up and do something for themselves.

  3. Anonymous
    February 16th, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    At first I laughed when I saw the pictures but after reading the story, it was very interesting. Great story!

  4. Mike
    February 25th, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

    What an inspiration this young man is. It just goes to show people that with hard work and determination just about anything can be accomplished. This young boy should be applauded for what he has done to not only better his area but other areas in the world as well.

  5. Bill Gassett
    March 6th, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

    Wow what an inspiring story. The boy obviously has a creative mind and probably a heart of gold!

  6. Ryan
    March 20th, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    I find stories like this quite inspirational really. In the face of adversity, and oftentimes because of it, people are capable of quite a bit. Thanks for the link to the book, it’s now in my wish list.

  7. Anonymous
    December 10th, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    William deserves much praise. I read about on BBC website – there was an article about him some time ago. I never realised he had written a book btw. Just goes to show what hard work and determination can bring. Sometimes I think we have it too easy. Heated homes, water to our homes (hot water), vehicles to take us from A to B, a whole host of communication and informatio channels (telephone, internet, satellite). Yet too many of us still complain why we ‘havent got this’ or ‘havent got that’. I’ve just gone made a purchase of the book – lets hope it gets here before the holidays.

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